September 22nd, 2017
posted by [syndicated profile] the_angriest_feed at 01:35pm on 22/09/2017

Posted by Grant

It is 18 March 1974 and time for another episode of Colditz.

While the Kommandant (Bernard Hepton) is away, Major Mohn (Anthony Valentine) is left in charge of Colditz. When he learns via a lover that the German effort is close to defeat, and that his close connections to the Nazi government may see him executed for war crimes, he goes into a panic and tries ingratiating himself with the camp's prisoners.

"Chameleon" is an episode that has been a long time coming, ever since the deeply odious and unlikeable Horst Mohn joined the cast at the beginning of the season. He has constantly over-stepped his authority, broken the Geneva Convention, and pushed hard for the treatment of the prisoners to be harsher and more punitive than his superior has allowed. The swing in this episode is sudden and remarkable: he begins the episode at his most powerful to date, and ends it at his very lowest and most desperate.

It is a fabulous and final showcase for Anthony Valentine, who has done an excellent job of making Mohn a perfect combination of entertaining and repellent. He is the archetypal 'man you love to hate', giving Lt Carter (David McCallum) an effective foil throughout the season as well as introducing a genuine Nazi into the German cast. It is not a surprise, after his constant taunts, jibes and threats, that Mohn would so easily crack under pressure. He tries sweet talking the prisoners, he tries making reciprocal deals, and he even attempts flat-out bribery. None of it works, because he sealed his fate the minute he chose to side with Adolf Hitler.

The episode, which is written by Robert Muller, takes a slow and measured pace. It carefully ratchets up the tension, keeping the viewer waiting until the very end to discover Mohn's fate. Even then it partially denies the audience its satisfaction: this has always been a realistic, grounded drama, and the over-the-top arrest or execution of Mohn would run counter to the tone of the entire series. There is definitely satisfaction to be had, but perhaps not as much as the average viewer would want. It feels like the right creative choice.

Mohn's plight also continues to drive home the growing threat of a German defeat that has been rising over the past few episodes. While the war's end in theory means freedom for the prisoners, every episode has raised the chances that the Waffen SS may invade and execute them all before than happens. It is making these final episodes - after this there are only two to go - increasingly suspenseful.
posted by [syndicated profile] fictionmachine_feed at 03:28am on 22/09/2017

Posted by Grant Watson

Seven years after defeating the mummy Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn O’Connell (Rachel Weisz) are dragged back into the action when forces working to resurrect Imhotep kidnap their six year-old son and take him to Egypt. Hot in pursuit, Rick and Evelyn race to prevent Imhotep and his servants from reviving the dreaded Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson) and seizing control of the Army of Anubis.

The Mummy Returns is a lot of things. Ostensibly it is a 2001 sequel to the surprise 1999 hit The Mummy. It is also a textbook example of how to cripple a nascent movie franchise, a showcase of over-ambitious and woefully mishandled visual effects, an egregious abuse of popular Egyptian mythology, and more than anything else a stern lesson for Hollywood that rushing a film to meet a pre-determined release date will never end well.

Many of the ingredients that made the 1999 film a delight are retained. Brendan Fraser still plays his entertaining matinee idol role with warmth and humour. Oded Fehr still infuses the Medjai swordsman Ardeth Bey with gravitas and dignity, and a neat underlying lightness. Arnold Vosloo still gives the villainous Imhotep a strong, muscular edge. The orchestral score – Alan Silvestri replaces Jerry Goldsmith – continues to emphasise a classically old-fashioned atmosphere of stirring adventure. Beyond this the film really is all over the place.

The plot manages to be both overly complicated and weirdly arbitrary. It begins by introducing a new villain, the Scorpion King, in ancient Egypt. He tries to invade and fails miserably, and at the point of death while exiled to the desert he makes a bargain with Anubis to gain supernatural powers and control over a magical army of ferocious dog people. A quick note to the writers: the evil god they were looked for was Set, not Anubis, and even then he was a god of chaos rather than evil. Once the Scorpion King succeeds in his invasion, his soul is taken by Anubis and the dog army dissolves to sand. That’s the problem with deals with gods, I suppose; there’s always the pesky fine print. It should be noted that The Mummy Returns was Dwayne Johnson’s first significant dramatic role, following guest appearances on the TV shows The Net and Star Trek: Voyager, and his lack of experience at this early career stage is painfully clear.

Cut to 1933 and the O’Connells are now married with a son named Alex (Freddy Boath). Boath was nine when he shot The Mummy Returns, but his character can only be six given the timeline between first film and sequel. In the actor’s defence, he’s a far less risible than the typical kid sidekick in these sorts of films. That said, the character is still a painful irritant on the rest of the film. A more cleanly structured sequel might have allocated his story role – he gets irreparably attached to a bracelet that leads to the Scorpion King’s lair – to his mother Evelyn, which would have both removed the annoying child stereotype and given Rachel Weisz more material with which to work.

The O’Connells find the bracelet, Alex gets it attached to his wrist, Imhotep is raised by the reincarnation of his long-dead lover Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velasquez), Rick is revealed as a prophesied warrior of Egyptian legend, Evelyn is revealed as the reincarnation of the princess Nefertiri, everyone races to the fabled oasis of Ahm Shere, and Rick and Imhotep battle one another in a pyramid to defeat the revived Scorpion King and either control or dispel the Army of Anubis. It is a narrative mess, and shows a remarkably rushed and inattentive scripting process.

If the script feels rushed, it has nothing on the film’s visual effects. The Mummy Returns is an enormously ambitious film, with a CGI list of requirements that includes undead warriors, forests sprouting from deserts, zombie pygmies, thousands of dog warriors, and a climactic half-man half-scorpion monster. There is not a single visual effect in the film that does not look substandard and rushed. The Scorpion King in particular is an embarrassment to the whole film. Industrial Light and Magic famously begged Universal Pictures to delay the film’s release by six months so that they could do a proper job, but a fixed release date was considered more important than a decent film. It all but kills the film. One could possibly overcome the weak writing and flabby narrative if there were some dramatic and visually engaging action sequences and chases, but it all collapses to pieces.

It is an enormous shame. The 1999 Mummy presented a wonderfully entertaining blend of adventure, comedy and horror, and could easily have been the foundation of a sustained and commercially successful franchise. Instead The Mummy got killed stone-dead with its second instalment. It was another seven years before Universal returned with a modified cast and a new director to make The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. After that, the studio cut its losses and aimed for a complete reboot. Is The Mummy Returns the worst sequel imaginable? Of course not, but if you asked if it was one of the most disappointing? That leads to a different answer.

james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] james_davis_nicoll at 10:53pm on 21/09/2017
Haven't been around long enough for an adult to reference the technology as something around when they were kids. That's just crazy talk -- 16 years ago, you say?
jolantru: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] jolantru at 09:58am on 22/09/2017 under ,
Yes, I made the decision to buy the remainder of the Rider and Speaker books as they are not selling. Sales have been bad. The books have not been moving just as quickly as I'd though. Not sure whether it's due to marketing or that Singapore's indeed a small market - but I think it's time to take them off the shelves.
They have languished long enough. :/

That the remainder cost approx. 800 SGD... well, will be a strain on my pockets, but I pray the pain is worth it.

EDIT: If you can't help, just say so. Don't have to tell me "I am sorry" or "At least you have some sales, but sadly most don't have".

EDIT 2: I was receiving responses like the ones seen above.
Mood:: 'tired' tired
posted by [syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed at 12:19am on 22/09/2017

Posted by John Scalzi

Featuring an Amish gentleman on a recumbent bicycle. As all the best first sunsets of fall do.

So long, summer. You did all right.

September 21st, 2017

Posted by Laura Staugaitis

Ceramic artist Heesoo Lee brings the textural depth of aspen forest canopies to her sculptural bowls and vases. Lee painstakingly places each and every leaf by hand, building unique, organic trees that seem to come to life with their shimmering, colorful leaves. While the vibrant glazes add a lifelike layer, the pieces are equally stunning in their unglazed form. The Montana-based artist shares many progress shots and videos on her Instagram, and works are available for purchase on Etsy. (via Lustik)

An unglazed work in progress

posted by [syndicated profile] clivethompson_feed at 08:55pm on 21/09/2017

Posted by Clive

Screenshot of a 1930s newspaper story about exploding pants in New Zealand
In the 1930s, New Zealand had an epidemic of exploding pants. FlightAware has a “misery map” showing flight delays across the country; the legend, bottom right, is pure poetry. “Transmission of Sound Through Voice Tubes”, a comprehensive 1926 governmental study of some fascinating acoustic physics; check out the gorgeous charts and data. Chinese voice-translation apps are getting remarkably good. Reddit’s 2015 ban of several hate-filled forums appears to have had an overall effect of reducing abuse, site-wide. Jellyfish have no brains, but appear to sleep, and to need sleep. “Love discovered me all weaponless”: These free translations of Petrarch are lovely.


Posted by Tony Finch

The extraordinary case of the Guevedoces, whose penises do not grow until puberty.

Posted by Zak Sabbath

Contessa, the con-within-a-con dedicated to promoting diversity n games is looking for folks to run games at U-Con in Ann Arbor NOVEMBER 17- NOVEMBER 19, 2017 and Acadecon in Dayton, November 10th – 12th, 2017.

Visit for details and help out with a great cause. Tell 'em D&DWPS sent you.

Posted by John

A random number generator can have excellent statistical properties and yet not be suited for use in cryptography. I’ve written a few posts to demonstrate this. For example, this post shows how to discover the seed of an LCG random number generator.

This is not possible with a secure random number generator. Or more precisely, it is not practical. It may be theoretically possible, but doing so requires solving a problem currently believed to be extremely time-consuming. (Lots of weasel words here. That’s the nature of cryptography. Security often depends on the assumption that a problem is as hard to solve as experts generally believe it is.)

Blum Blum Shub algorithm

The Blum Blum Shub algorithm for generating random bits rests on the assumption that a certain number theory problem, the quadratic residuosity problem, is hard to solve. The algorithm is simple. Let M = pq where p and q are large primes, both congruent to 3 mod 4. Pick a seed x0 between 1 and M and relatively prime to M. Now for n > 0, set

xn+1 = xn² mod M

and return the least significant bit of xn+1. (Yes, that’s a lot of work for just one bit. If you don’t need cryptographic security, there are much faster random number generators.)

Python implementation

Here’s some Python code to illustrate using the generator. The code is intended to be clear, not efficient.

Given two large (not necessarily prime) numbers x and y, the code below finds primes p and q for the algorithm and checks that the seed is OK to use.

    import sympy

    # super secret large numbers
    x = 3*10**200
    y = 4*10**200
    seed = 5*10**300

    def next_usable_prime(x):
        # Find the next prime congruent to 3 mod 4 following x.
        p = sympy.nextprime(x)
        while (p % 4 != 3):
            p = sympy.nextprime(p)
        return p

    p = next_usable_prime(x)
    q = next_usable_prime(y)
    M = p*q

    assert(1 < seed < M)
    assert(seed % p != 0)
    assert(seed % q != 0)

There’s a little bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here: how do you pick x, y, and seed? Well, you could use a cryptographically secure random number generator ….

Now let’s generate a long string of bits:

# Number of random numbers to generate
N = 100000     

x = seed
bit_string = ""
for _ in range(N):
    x = x*x % M
    b = x % 2
    bit_string += str(b)


I did not test the output thoroughly; I didn’t use anything like DIEHARDER or PractRand as in previous posts, but just ran a couple simple tests described here.

First I look at the balance of 0’s and 1’s.

    Number of 1's: 50171
    Expected: 49683.7 to 50316.2

Then the longest run. (See this post for a discussion of expected run length.)

    Run length: 16
    Expected: 12.7 to 18.5

Nothing unusual here.

The Blums

The first two authors of Blum Blum Shub are Lenore and Manuel Blum. The third author is Michael Shub.

I had a chance to meet the Blums at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum in 2014. Manuel Blum gave a talk that year on mental cryptography that I blogged about here and followed up here. He and his wife Lenore were very pleasant to talk with.

posted by [syndicated profile] in_the_pipeline_feed at 04:28pm on 21/09/2017

Posted by Derek Lowe

Blogging time is tight today, but there are several interesting stories and follow-ups that I wanted to mention. For starters, I wrote here about a cyclohexane analog that’s fluorinated all on one side of the molecule. That gives you very odd properties, and it and its relatives could be really useful solvents and additives, but getting such molecules has been very painful. Now, though, a route to this compound and others has been found from the far more readily available fluoroaromatic starting materials. The Glorius group at Münster reports hydrogenation using a particular rhodium catalyst that actually gives you access to all sorts of cis-fluorinated saturated rings, which is very nice to see. I would enjoy knowing if there’s a similar route that might work on fluoropyridines or fluoropyrroles to give the saturated heterocycles – any takers?

Second, here’s a neat paper for the NMR aficionados out there. It presents “supersequences” for combining a long list of useful 1D and 2D NMR experiments into single pulse sequences, importantly using only one relaxation delay (which is where the time starts to pile up). What you have, then, is an extremely efficient NMR experiment that gives you piles of data all in one run. The SI for the paper presents over 200 proposed supersequences, combinations of NMR data collection that will make your head spin. Just to give you the idea, they demonstrate one sequence that combines proton-nitrogen HMQC, proton-carbon HSQC, proton-carbon HMBC, COSY, and NOESY all at the same time, delivering pretty much everything you could want in small-molecule NMR at a substantial savings in instrument time.

While I’m on the analytical side of things, I should also note that the European X-ray laser facility (XFEL) is now open and running its first experiments. This is the fastest thing of its kind in the world – as I understand it, it can take 27,000 frames per second, which is completely new territory as far as time-resolved x-ray structure work goes, 200 times the rate of the LCLS machine out at Stanford’s SLAC facility. But there’s a free-electron laser arms race going on – the good kind, not the we’re-all-going-to-die kind. The LCLS is planning an upgrade that would take it up to millions of pulses per second, which will reveal things about protein structure alone that I can’t even imagine. I recall writing a blog post nine years ago anticipating these machines coming on line, and by golly, here they are. Time flies!

Courtesy of Angewandte Chemie/Wiley

Moving back to a much smaller scale (anything is smaller scale than a free-electron laser), do you know about Janus filters? These are membranes whose two sides are functionalized differently, and they can be great at separating out oil/water mixtures and breaking up emulsified messes. The problem with the current ones is that they haven’t been able to deal with emulsions that have non-ionic surfactants in them, and that’s a large category. But now there’s a new system that can handle pretty much the whole range. One side of the filter has polydimethylsiloxane on it, and the other has a polysoap, ethylene glycol spacers with laurate groups on the end. When an emulsion hits the polysoap side, that’s the emulsion breaker. The surfactant gets pulled away from the oil droplets, which then start to coalesce and move down the membrane material until they hit the PDMS side of things, where they happily dive through. The results is that you have a milky mass of emulsion on one side, while the oil/organic component slowly drains out the other while you go do something else (see illustration at right). I want one.

posted by [syndicated profile] stilgherrian_feed at 01:11pm on 21/09/2017

Posted by Stilgherrian

Kim Jong-Un celebrating after the successful launch of the missile.  Reuters/KCNA

The 9pm Edict cover art version 2, 150 pixelsDo you think we’re close to a nuclear war breaking out? That’s just one of the trivial questions addressed in this podcast.

There’s also talk of gay marriage, racism, British tourists, more racism, and Senator Malcolm Roberts. And of course Nicholas Fryer takes a look through The Arch Window.

You can listen to the podcast above or below. But if you want all of the episodes, now and in the future, subscribe to the podcast feed, or subscribe automatically in iTunes, or go to SoundCloud or Spreaker.

Thank you, Media Freedom Citizenry

If you enjoyed this podcast, please throw a few coins into the tip jar.

Episode Credits

Series Credits

[Photo: Kim Jong-Un celebrating after the successful launch of the missile (Reuters/KCNA).]

james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
theferrett: (Meazel)

In case you forgot, I’ll be at Borderlands Books (my favorite place in SF) at 3:00 pm this Saturday to read to you from my new book The Uploaded, sign whatever you put in front of me, and to, as usual, go out for hamburgers afterwards.

(And if you’re extra-special-good, I may do a super-secret advance MEGA-preview reading of The Book That Does Not Yet Have A Name. Not that, you know, you shouldn’t be rushing out to your stores to buy The Uploaded right now.)

I will, of course, bring donuts after my massive DONUT FAIL in Massachusetts, which I still wake up in cold sweats about. I will bring you donuts or die.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

posted by [syndicated profile] sumana_feed at 12:16pm on 21/09/2017
Sometime around 1999 or 2001, I first heard "King of Spain" by Moxy Früvous. The UC Berkeley a cappella group DeCadence performed it during one of their lunchtime concerts near Sather Gate. (Four out of five weekdays one of the a cappella groups would do a noon concert -- DeCadence, Artists in Resonance, the Men's Octet, the California Golden Overtones -- and I caught as many of them as I could.) And then Steve Shipman introduced me to more of their songs and albums -- it was Bargainville, which ends with that haunting a cappella "Gulf War Song", that I was listening to on September 10, 2001.

In 2014 it came to light that band member Jian Ghomeshi had a fairly sordid history, and for a while I couldn't listen. Now I seem to have the ability to listen again; that change I don't have as much insight into as I'd like.

Just now Leonard and I were singing bits of "King of Spain" to each other; he sang:

Lord, it looked good on me

I said "What?!" Because back around 2000 and through all the years to the present, I heard those lyrics as:

Lord of the good ennui

So for the entire time I've been with Leonard, he and I have interpreted that song slightly differently. He heard the narrator figuratively wearing royalty like clothing, like a fashion statement, which connects to the silk he mentions in the next line, and which logically connects to the garment swap later in the song. Through my mondegreen, I heard an emphasis on the narrator's malaise and boredom (a reason for the prince-and-pauper swap) and a connection to the literal meaning of an additional French loanword, laissez-faire, that he uses later.

A quick web search tells me that Leonard's version is the consensus, that to join intersubjective reality I would let go of "Lord of the good ennui". I shall bury it here, with due ceremony. Goodbye, old mondegreen friend! You were a lot of fun.

supergee: (mourning)
posted by [personal profile] supergee at 08:44am on 21/09/2017 under
Harry Dean Stanton: the life of a Repo Man (or an apostle) is intense

Lotfi Zadeh: Fuzzy Wuzzy wuz a logic.

Len Wein: beloved comics guy

Jake LaMotta: lasted remarkably long, for a boxer

Lillian Ross: wrote a fascinating peek into that great big wonderful dysfunctional family known as
The New Yorker. (She did a deliberate Good Grief, It’s Daddy)

Stanislav Petrov: saved the world

Posted by Tony Finch

Measuring the security of closed DNS resolvers by probing via SMTP.
andrewducker: (Default)

Posted by Shamus

Since the city of Sanctuary is the only real town in the game, the developers were able to pack it full of interesting details and a large cast of characters. You get a few quests as you enter town that will steer you into meeting these people.

Sir Hammerlock

Trivia: This voice actor also does the (english) voice of Kyoya Ootori from Ouran High School Host Club, and Scar from Fullmetal Alchemist. This role is... not like those other two.

Trivia: This voice actor also does the (english) voice of Kyoya Ootori from Ouran High School Host Club, and Scar from Fullmetal Alchemist. This role is... not like those other two.

Technically we met Sir Hammerlock during the previous chapter, but I was too busy complaining about pacing to introduce him. He is both a zoologist and a big game hunter, which is kind of like being a marine biologist and a whale hunter. Sure you can be both of those things at the same time, but people generally… aren’t. But this underscores two important points:

  1. The wildlife on Pandora is crazy dangerous, to the point where a zoologist has to be able to slay creatures just to do his job.
  2. Everyone on this planet is a little crazy, even the scientists. No, especially the scientists.

He’s one of my favorite characters in the series and I’m always glad when one of his ridiculous jobs of questionable scientific merit comes up.

Dr. Zed

Don`t feel bad about the patient, he`s a bad guy or whatever.

Don`t feel bad about the patient, he`s a bad guy or whatever.

Zed is a character built around one joke: He’s a doctor who somehow lost his medical license on a crazy lawless world where murder is about as scandalous as flipping someone off in traffic. The joke is the sheer absurdity of this situation: Who is in charge of medical licenses out in this anarchic wasteland? What could he have possibly done that would be severe enough to have his license revoked? Who would possibly care enough to punish him if he continued to practice medicine without one? Why does he maintain a clinic if he’s not allowed to practice medicine, and why do people go to it?


It`s not his refund policy that`s the problem, it`s his trade-in prices. He`s basically the Gamestop of firearms.

It`s not his refund policy that`s the problem, it`s his trade-in prices. He`s basically the Gamestop of firearms.

Marcus is a strange one. He narrates the introduction movies. He runs all the gun vending machines. He’s portrayed as this grubby amoral businessman. And since he’s a weapons merchant on a lawless world of violence and will sell weapons to anyone, I guess that’s a fair appraisal.

In the first game Marcus kept calling up the player every few hours and asking if they could be “partners” once the vault was opened. The gist is that he was going to help the player sell whatever treasure they found. Eventually he started assuming you’d accepted his offer. It felt like some sort of plot was being developed, but the whole idea was quietly dropped before the end of the game.

There was also a conversation where he confided that crazy-pants Tannis hadn’t used the commerce grid in years, meaning he had no idea how she was getting supplies. Since she lived all alone in a wasteland full of danger, this seemed to imply that she was getting supplies from some unknown party. This plot thread also didn’t go anywhere.

Now he’s just the voice of the vending machines and occasional bestower of sidequests.

Crazy Earl



Earl was a crazy recluse who gave nonsense quests in Borderlands 1. This time around, he’s running the “Black Market”, where he sells inventory upgrades. Sometimes you’ll get a few chunks of eridium as rare drops, and sometimes you’ll get a few as a quest reward. You can give them to Crazy earl to expand your carrying capacity for different ammo types[7].

This is the perfect use for Earl. It ensures there’s always an excuse to keep this beloved character around in future games, and it lets us have interactions with him without needing to awkwardly work his antics into the main plot.

“Since I’m protecting him, why doesn’t Earl give me these much-needed upgrades for free? Where does he get this stuff? And what’s he doing with all this eridium, anyway?”

The answer, of course, is, “Get lost, jerkwad!”

The Fate of Helena Pierce

As you listen to the audiologs in the quest, you discover that Pierce was riding a train through the snowy wastes. I wanted to do a "Snowpiercer" joke here, but I couldn`t make it work.

As you listen to the audiologs in the quest, you discover that Pierce was riding a train through the snowy wastes. I wanted to do a "Snowpiercer" joke here, but I couldn`t make it work.

Let’s talk about a character who isn’t in this game, despite the fact that she was a prominent character in Borderlands 1. Pierce was the narrator in the original grim-n-gritty trailer for Borderlands 1 and the administrator of the only real town in the game.

It turns out Handsome Jack killed her in the gap between Borderlands 1 and 2, and had a laugh while doing it. For me, Pierce was always a symbol for the original, much darker version of the game. I’ve always assumed that she was a central character in Dark Borderlands, and was sidelined once her design began to clash with the new tone. Her dialog was always serious, and her disfigured face hinted at a past that was brutal in a not-funny way.

I’m sure the writer killed her off as a way of tying up loose threads from the previous game (while also building up our villain) but I’ve also sort of viewed this quest as Borderlands 2 shedding the last of the leftover baggage from Dark Borderlands. Shep Sanders is forgotten. Lucky is dead. The bleak characters are all gone, the strange tonal dissonance is resolved, and the series is now committed to action comedy.

Well, all except for one last holdout…

Patricia Tannis

Saying random nonsense is SO crazy!

Saying random nonsense is SO crazy!

The Borderlands 2 writing is a huge improvement over the writing in Borderlands 1. The tone is more consistent, player action is better justified, the plot exists, the villain is properly established[8], the jokes are both more frequent and more consistent, the stakes are better conveyed, and the characters are more vibrant. It’s better in every way… except for how Patricia Tannis is handled.

Tannis is the last of the ugly seams between Dark Borderlands and the Borderlands we got. She’s an odd one because she’s a (present day) goofy character with a (backstory) of dark misery. She can’t really be written out of the story as easily as the others, since she’s more or less in charge of all vault study and exposition.

This new take on Tannis doesn’t work for me. I get that the previous version of Tannis was a mixed bag. Sometimes she was roughly sane and sometimes she was nutty. Most of her humor was based on confusingly constructed sentences. In the first game she’s got a line that goes something like:

“They took the artifact from me and killed my dog, which is the third and final piece of the vault key.”

It wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but it was kind of amusing and it basically worked. Here in the sequel I have no idea what they’re doing with her. When we meet her in Borderlands 2, we find her recording the following message for Roland:

“As I’ve said Roland, now that Jack has the vault key it’s only a matter of time until he opens the vault. Also, I require a new ventilator. This lab smells of bacon. Bacon is for sycophants and products of incest.”

I realize I’m coming dangerously close to reviewing individual jokes, and there’s no way that argument can go my way. But I don’t actually see a joke there. It’s strange, yes. But it comes off like chef random dialog. And that line is supposed to be her big introduction to the audience?

Also, her character is wildly inconsistent. One bit establishes her as terrified of people to the point of paralysis, but other times she’s more than happy to talk. There’s quest text that refers to her as “an introvert with Aspergers” and neither of those things describes her in any way, much less act as defining attributes.

I have no idea what the writer was trying to do with this character, but unless their goal was “confuse the audience” then I don’t think it worked.

It’s not that this hurts the game or anything. Tannis is just here to explain the various space magic conceits to us and we have very few interactions with her. I’m not bringing this up because it’s a big deal, I’m bringing it up because it’s really curious. What happened to this character and why was she handled so differently from the others?


The only thing Roland hates more than Handsome Jack is the way people around him are always making "Turret Syndrome" jokes.

The only thing Roland hates more than Handsome Jack is the way people around him are always making "Turret Syndrome" jokes.

Roland has a new voice actor, a new accent, and a new personality. In Borderlands 1 he was Mr. Enthusiasm. He was always excited to shoot a guy, level up, or even just get into a car. Here in the sequel he’s got a low voice and he’s stoic, stiff, and awkward.

If I had to guess, I’d say the real world leaked into his design. Everyone referred to Roland as “the boring one” because he didn’t have space magic powers, he didn’t have a killer bird, and he wasn’t a seven foot tall pillar of angry muscle that could punch bandits into red mist. He was just a guy with a gun who could sometimes summon another gun. He seemed a little pedestrian compared to his more fantastical teammates. But then somehow his reputation as “the one with the boring powers” became”the one with the boring personality”.

Maybe his personality changed because they couldn’t get the original voice actor to reprise the role and they figured it was easier to just re-cast and re-write[9]? I don’t know. On the upside, he’s paradoxically a lot funnier now that he’s more boring. When the other three Borderlands 1 alumni arrive in the story later on, his social awkwardness will make for a lot of fun dialog with them.




I strongly suspect that Scooter’s original design was inspired by Cooter from the Dukes of Hazzard. Yes, he’s just a round face with automotive grease and a trucker cap, which isn’t exactly a design that jumps off the page. But combined with the accent, the background, and the name similarity, it really does seem like Scooter is either an homage, a reference, or a rip-off. I mean, just look at Cooter:

Click to see a clip of Cooter in Dukes of Hazzard

Click to see a clip of Cooter in Dukes of Hazzard

In the first game he was an uncouth mechanic that pinged a few redneck stereotypes. He was dim and didn’t seem to be particularly gifted.

Here in the sequel his redneck shtick has been cranked up to 11 and he’s a mechanical savant that can hotwire a long-dormant spaceship to make a city fly.

When you finally get into Sanctuary, Angel gives you a really important line of dialog. She explains that Sanctuary was built atop (or from) an old Dahl mining ship of the same name. However, you must stop in the courtyard just as you enter the city if you want to hear this. If you just keep jogging towards the current waypoint marker then Scooter’s introduction will start and you’ll never hear the line about the city being partly made of spaceship. This is an awful line to miss, since later on Scooter makes the city fly and this is the only dialog to explain why that isn’t ridiculous and random.

Sanctuary does not look like a spaceship. It’s made of concrete and there aren’t any spaceship-looking parts around[10]. It’s got a paved road leading to it and it seems to have things like concrete sidewalks and other non-spaceship parts. There’s nothing to visually hint that this was ever anything like a spaceship. Scooter is a car mechanic, so having him make a giant city of pavement and concrete fly without explanation is just too outlandish, even for a world as crazy as this one.

As far as I know, this is the only place in the entire game where someone explains that Sanctuary was built out of a Dahl spaceship, and you must stop in this courtyard to hear it.

As far as I know, this is the only place in the entire game where someone explains that Sanctuary was built out of a Dahl spaceship, and you must stop in this courtyard to hear it.

This is a really minor complaint, but it would be easy to fix. The Angel line should trigger without fail, and Scooter ought to follow up with a reminder so we do a kind of rule of three thing. I bring this up because the rest of the story is usually really good about this kind of stuff. I wonder if somewhere on the cutting room floor is a line from Scooter explaining the origins of the city, and that line was left out or forgotten for some reason? This section is actually pretty thick with people talking as you crisscross the city on errands, and perhaps this important bit of exposition was left out to leave more room for his jokes about incest and bloodshed.

The problem right now is that Roland is missing. He was supposed to meet us here in Sanctuary, but he went out on an errand[11] and never came back. For some reason, Scooter thinks the thing to do is make the city fly[12]. I’m not sure how that was going to help. If Roland came back he’d be stuck on the ground, looking into the crater where his city used to be and wondering how to get home. Meanwhile, everyone else would be stuck in the city with no leader, no plan, and no way to get groceries. Great. Your city is flying. What now, dumbasses?

So it’s perhaps for the best that Scooter can’t get the city to fly just yet.

supergee: (guitar)
posted by [personal profile] supergee at 06:29am on 21/09/2017 under
The real story behind “Duncan & Brady”. Arouses my distrust by not mentioning Judy Henske, but that’s probably just me.

Thanx to Metafilter
supergee: (mourning)
posted by [personal profile] supergee at 05:17am on 21/09/2017 under
Late in the 1967 season the LA Rams were 4 points behind with less than 30 seconds to go. They blocked a punt and recovered it at the other team’s 5-yard line. Everybody knew they were going to throw it to their big gun, Bernie Casey. They did, and he scored.

He played only one more season, then did a book of his poems & paintings and went to Hollywood, where he had a number of successful films including playing the Black frat leader in Revenge of the Nerds. He was also in my favorite granfalloon, Star Trek, playing the Maquis leader Cal Hudson in Deep Space Nine.

ETA: In 1968 Joe Namath shocked the football world* by growing a mustache. Casey & Jim Marshall had been wearing them all along, but they didn’t count, perhaps due to lack of contrast.
*Shocking the football world has never required extreme measures. See Kaepernick, Colin.

Posted by Grant

Runaways is a Marvel title about which I have heard a world of praise, and yet circumstance has resulted in me never actually reading the book myself. I figured I would correct that in a small part by sampling Marvel's new relaunch, which returns to a group of friends who bonded together when they discovered that their respective parents were all super-villains.

It's clear from the outset that this relaunch assumes prior knowledge of the characters, because while it explains the basics of the spell-caster Nico Minoru and the time-travelling Chase it never really pauses to properly re-introduce them. That put me at something of a disadvantage when reading issue #1: it tells a tense, very well written scene, but because I am not invested in its participants it does not have the intended effect. I suspect pre-existing fans will get a lot more value for money.

Kris Anka's artwork is reasonable, but it is lifted to a new level by Matthew Wilson's colours. This issue is a really good example of just how important and useful good colouring can be. (4/5)

Runaways #1. Marvel. Written by Rainbow Rowell. Art by Kris Anka. Colours by Matthew Wilson.

Under the cut: reviews of Hulk, Mech Cadet Yu, Mister Miracle and Spy Seal.

Hulk #10
Marvel. Written by Mariko Tamaki. Art by Julian Lopez and Francesco Gaston. Colours by Matt Milla.
Jennifer finally confronts Oliver, a YouTube celebrity chef whose body has been hideously mutated by a prank gone wrong. Stopping him in his monstrous state requires transforming herself - but in her newly enraged Hulk state can Jennifer control her actions? This wraps up the second story arc for Hulk. It is a little weaker than the first, but does still hit solid emotional beats of post-traumatic stress and grief. Lopez and Gaston's art is a little uneven for a mainstream title, but Tamaki's script shines through with some nice narration and character moments. (3/5)

Mech Cadet Yu #2
Boom Studios. Written by Greg Pak. Art by Takeshi Miyazawa. Colours by Triona Farrell.
Stanford Yu is a teenager who finds himself 'adopted' by a giant alien robot. When he enrols into a mech pilot training program, the well-connected cadet whose position he unintentionally supplanted sets out to make trouble. This is a really enjoyable, albeit somewhat predictable, giant robot story. Its origins in anime are worn openly on its sleeve, but both Greg Pak's strong, well characterised script and Takeshi Miyazawa's distinctive and warm artwork push this book to a level that more than compensates for any predictable elements. This was intended as a four-issue miniseries, but Boom have already confirmed that strong sales of the first issue have expanded this book to ongoing status. Based on this issue, it deserves it. (4/5)

Mister Miracle #2
DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art and colours by Mitch Gerads.
Mister Miracle and his wife Barda are summoned back to New Genesis to fight for their new Highfather Orion. This is a beautifully composed and powerful book, told via a strict nine-panel Watchmen-style grid. The way in which King and Gerads work within that framework to tell a story that is bold, experimental, emotionally resonant and deeply creepy is just hugely impressive. The New Gods are a wonderful pantheon, and as this second issue opens up and uses more of them it really drives that home well. I don't think I have ever seen Granny Goodness written so well. (5/5)

Spy Seal #2
Image. Story and art by Rich Tommaso.
The second issue of Rich Tommaso's European-styled spy adventure feels much more self-assured and consistent than the first, with a nicely consistent blend of humour and action. The presentation is absolutely wonderful, as are the relatively pastel-style colours and clean ink style - all of which contributes to that particularly sort of 'bandes-desinees' feel. The brisk plot and nicely composed action - there's a great car chase here - lift it up. Overall it's a vast improvement; my opinion of Spy Seal has shifted from on-the-fence to committed reader. Fingers crossed the quality is maintained for the rest of the storyline. (4/5)
posted by [syndicated profile] dg_weblog_feed at 07:00am on 21/09/2017

Posted by diamond geezer

Open House: Hackney Town Hall

It's always illuminating on Open House weekend to visit one of London's town halls. One year I deliberately visited six. These bastions of democracy regulate our local lives, but most of us would never dream of venturing inside, let alone scrutinising their role. Several were participating this year, but I only made it to Hackney Town Hall, picked pretty much at random because it was near somewhere else I wanted to go. And I hit the jackpot, not only because the interior's an Art Deco gem, but because a decade of major renovation has (just) finished and one of the architects was available to guide us round. [restoration pdf]

Hackney's first town hall is now a Coral betting shop on Mare Street, abandoned for a larger site in 1866, then rebuilt in 1934. It's this Neo-classical rebuild which still stands, facing the palm trees in the main square between the library and the Hackney Empire. The architects were Lanchester and Lodge, their brief to design something grand but cheap, hence a surfeit of plasterwork behind the Portland stone facade. Here's a photo of the frontage in which I have carefully cropped out the worldly goods of two homeless men arguing loudly about which of them detests the other more.

I wish I'd been inside previously to be able to compare the scruffy octogenarian look to this latest spruce up. The marble across the floor of the entrance passageway has been given a painstaking polish, and the space opened up by knocking through a couple of unnecessary walls. Chiselled letters on the lintel declare HACKNEY TOWN HALL with élan, and beyond is the REGISTRAR OF BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS, a function long since displaced to the glass warren across Reading Lane. I would have taken a photo of this handiwork to share, but a row of Hackney personnel were lined up underneath and that would have felt wrong, so I made do with grabbing a bit of elegant staircase as the tour began.

The main public spaces are a bit wow, thanks mainly to the light fittings. These are original - geometric confections of glass and shiny brass - perched atop finials, ribbed round pillars or glowing from the ceiling. The finest of all holds sway above the Council Chamber, an extruded octagon of superphallic dimensions illuminating proceedings. The wood panelling round the walls was in an appalling condition but has been French-polished back to life, while the restored bank of upholstered seating now conceals gubbins to allow council voting to progress electronically. As for the long narrow room hidden at the back under the public gallery, this would once have reeked of cigar smoke, but is now a lush snug where elected members can network and/or relax.

We got to poke inside the Mayor's office, and to see his personal collection of Hackney community paraphernalia stashed inside a cupboard rescued from the cellar. We got to walk the corridors and see the portraits of all Hackney's former Mayors, their dress and demeanour either evocatively or scarily out of date. We also got to go outdoors indoors by entering what used to be a central courtyard, now covered over for use as an accessible events and circulation space. If all the renovation work looked expensive we were reassured that it had greatly improved energy efficiency, and had allowed over 50% more council staff to work within the building, so had also brought economies to bear.

For larger events the Assembly Hall has one of the only remaining sprung dance floors in London, and large square lamps looming overhead. The Bridgetown Bar nextdoor is a more intimate darkwood space with illuminated marble bar, and old photos round the wall from the town hall's heyday. Two of the last rooms to be finished off are the marriage suites, shortly available for booking, one of which was so tastefully blue it made tour members coo with appreciation. I think the architect leading us round was suitably impressed by our reaction, as indeed had we been with her knowledgeable input to the tour. It was great to see a building so beautifully restored - Historic England are well chuffed - and revived to function at the very heart of its community. [7 photos]

Open House: Bruno Court, The German Hospital

This next building dates from the same year, 1935, and can be found half a mile up the road to Dalston overlooking Fassett Square. It was an extension to Hackney's German Hospital, that a redbrick cluster, this a five storey annexe with general medicine and maternity care in mind. Teutonic thinking led to a Modernist design, with a massive concrete canopy above the main entrance and practically elegant terrazzo stairwells. Patients would have appreciated the bright and airy interior, and the current residents do too, because of course the hospital was closed in 1987 and was swiftly turned into flats. However a surprisingly high proportion of the current residents are architects, which is always a good sign, and they turned out at the weekend to show us round.

There was no peering inside the accommodation, but we did see the lobby, and stand in the car park where the tennis courts used to be, and climb the (lovely) stairwell to the roof. The hospital's designers provided a roof garden for the benefit of convalescent patients, as well as a long balcony one floor lower down to push trolleys out onto. The roof garden is more an open space with planters than a verdant horticultural feast, and boasts a splendid swooshing shelter up one end which resembles an elongated mushroom. For those who like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing they really like.

Particularly splendid are the views, there not being too many tower blocks in this part of Hackney to break sightlines. Immediately adjacent is the original hospital, again now residential, swiftly taken out of German hands at the outset of the Second World War. But I was more interested in the terraces on the other side, because Fassett Square E8 has nationwide fame as the set designers' inspiration for Albert Square E20. It was great to be able to look down on an oddly familiar style of housing, and its central garden square, and to learn that EastEnders still send a research team to Fassett Square every year to make notes on how real life fashions in fixtures and fittings have subtly changed. There may be no pub or shopping parade, nor cursing Cockneys casting aspersions in the street, but (Overground) trains do rumble past noisily up one end. The BBC originally considered filming all their exterior shots here, but the looming Modernism of the German Hospital would have made camera angles too difficult so they built a set in Elstree instead, and the rest is history. Residents of sleepy Fassett Square much prefer it that way. [8 photos]

Posted by cks

I wrote recently about why I didn't use the attrs module recently; the short version is that it would have forced my co-workers to learn about it in order to work on my code. Talking about this brings up a potentially awkward issue, namely Python 3. Just like the attrs module, working with Python 3 code involves learning some new things and dealing with some additional concerns. In light of this, is using Python 3 in code for work something that's justified?

This issue is relevant to me because I actually have Python 3 code these days. For one program, I had a concrete and useful reason to use Python 3 and doing so has probably had real benefits for our handling of incoming email. But for other code I've simply written it in Python 3 because I'm still kind of enthused about it and everyone (still) does say it's the right thing to do. And there's no chance that we'll be able to forget about Python 2, since almost all of our existing Python code uses Python 2 and isn't going to change.

However, my tentative view is that using Python 3 is a very different situation than the attrs module. To put it one way, it's quite possible to work with Python 3 without noticing. At a superficial level and for straightforward code, about the only difference between Python 3 and Python 2 is print("foo") versus 'print "foo". Although I've said nasty things about Python 3's automatic string conversions in the past, they do have the useful property that things basically just work in a properly formed UTF-8 environment, and most of the time that's what we have for sysadmin tools.

(Yes, this isn't robust against nasty input, and some tools are exposed to that. But many of our tools only process configuration files that we've created ourselves, which means that any problems are our own fault.)

Given that you can do a great deal of work on an existing piece of Python code without caring whether it's Python 2 or Python 3, the cost of using Python 3 instead of Python 2 is much lower than, for example, the cost of using the attrs module. Code that uses attrs is basically magic if you don't know attrs; code in Python 3 is just a tiny bit odd looking and it may blow up somewhat mysteriously if you do one of two innocent-seeming things.

(The two things are adding a print statement and using tabs in the indentation of a new or changed line. In theory the latter might not happen; in practice, most Python 3 code will be indented with spaces.)

In situations where using Python 3 allows some clear benefit, such as using a better version of an existing module, I think using Python 3 is pretty easily defensible; the cost is very likely to be low and there is a real gain. In situations where I've just used Python 3 because I thought it was neat and it's the future, well, at least the costs are very low (and I can argue that this code is ready for a hypothetical future where Python 2 isn't supported any more and we want to migrate away from it).

Sidebar: Sometimes the same code works in both Pythons

I wrote my latest Python code as a Python 3 program from the start. Somewhat to my surprise, it runs unmodified under Python 2.7.12 even though I made no attempt to make it do so. Some of this is simply luck, because it turns out that I was only ever invoking print() with a single argument. In Python 2, print("fred") is seen as 'print ("fred")', which is just 'print "fred"', which works fine. Had I tried to print() multiple arguments, things would have exploded.

(I have only single-argument print()s because I habitually format my output with % if I'm printing out multiple things. There are times when I'll deviate from this, but it's not common.)

posted by [syndicated profile] crpgaddict_feed at 12:00am on 21/09/2017

Posted by CRPG Addict

No additional outdoor explorations this time. This entire session was spent cleaning various dungeons and special encounters in the areas I already mapped.

I started with the dungeon below Baywatch. Gnoman was right that the unavoidable pools in the dungeon aren't poison; they're acid. By this point, I had the "Protection from Elements" spell and was able to neutralize the threat. The enemies weren't too hard, mostly the very "bubblemen" that I faced in the first town. A boss-level creature called a "phantom" capped the small area.

I freed a couple of NPCs, including a knight named Sir Galant (did you work hard on that one, JVC?) and a cleric named Darlana. I wasn't interested in taking either since my existing archer and druid already complement my party.
You were sold to phantoms by skeletons? What did they do with the money?
Up in the town proper, Brother Alpha had told me that I should endeavor to find magic seashells for the nymph Althea. He told me to seek out his brother, Beta, for more information. Beta was in the dungeon and filled in a bit more information--the seashells are on an island--before sending me on to Brother Gamma in Wildabar. Each time one of the brothers passes me along to the next, it's accompanied by a vignette of the brother summoning a small creature to deliver a message to the next brother that I'll be coming. Each one also gave me a "quatloo coin." Although I didn't meet the other brothers until much later, I'll cover the rest of the story now. Gamma said that the name of the island is Rainbow Island; Delta said that one shell is released onto the island on a particular day of the year; and Zeta said that the day is #99.
Getting the last hint in the Arachnoid Caverns.
Next up were the Halls of Insanity in A3, probably the hardest dungeon of this session, although of course I didn't know it going in. Buffed as I was with the fountains, the creatures weren't so much difficult as thoroughly annoying. Some small dragons were easy to neutralize with "Protection from Elements" set to "Fire," but some creature called "Mystic Clouds" blanks a character's spell points when they hit, and they have ranged attacks. Spells are particularly necessary in this dungeon because many of the chests have teleporter traps in front of them, and you have to cross with "Jump."

Even worse, the dungeon introduces "Evil Eyes" for the first time. They remain one of my most hated enemies from Might and Magic VI. They're already in proper form here, turning the entire party insane with a single blast--a condition that I still have no spell to cure. I had to keep leaving and returning.
One day, I shall slaughter hundreds of you with blaster rifles.
There were three easy riddles here, all opening the way to areas of the dungeon, all with a common theme:

  • "This river of mine always flows down, never the same as its course. Laden with salt, it outlines a frown. The Great Sea is not its source." (TEARS)
  • "Automatically it's done; I don't have time to think. It darkens my world for a bit; it comes and it passes quick as a wink, with a two-fold, cleansing flit." (BLINK)
  • "A window they seem, that leads to no corridor. Their color lucid like a gem, reflections they cast, tho' not a mirror. Beauty resides within them." (EYES)

In the end, the dungeon was worth it. First, I found a statue that conferred all 18 skills in the game to any character for a 100,000 gold piece payment. That sounds like a lot, but I was walking around with almost a million and had another million back in the Fountain Head vault, earning interest. I bought the skills for all six of my "real" party members (i.e., not the NPCs).
My insane knight can't even use all of these skills, but it still seemed like a good deal.
I made that back easily when I followed clues to a set of coordinates not connected to the rest of the dungeon (I had to "Teleport" there) and found a chest with 1 million gold. Other chests in the dungeon held an "Ancient Artifact of Evil" (worth a lot of experience when I find the evil castle) and a "Hologram Sequencing Card." Later dungeons would deliver more of those mysterious cards. 

Finally, the dungeon produced my first two Ultimate Power Orbs, which I returned to King Zealot (the "good" king) for 1 million experience each. I later found two more and gave them to the neutral king. Does trying to keep the balance mean that I'm naturally favoring the neutral king? Wouldn't giving him all the orbs damage the concept of neutrality?
At least it's hard to miss these.
Next up was Dark Warrior Keep in B3, where Corak's notes promised that someone called the "Top Jouster" guarded two more Ultimate Power Orbs. The dungeon was swarming with dark dwarves and lesser jousters. Neither was terribly hard, although the jousters tended to do a ton of damage to one character at a time.
Keeping horses inside a dungeon seems cruel.
Annoying chests kept exploding and killing my ninja no matter how many hit points she had. I don't think it had anything to do with skill; the chests just inevitably explode when you try to open them. Naturally, I still had to try to open every one, lest I miss a quest item. Fortunately, I had a wand that cast "Raise Dead." Traps that you can't avoid or even protect against are an obnoxious game mechanic.
There was a math puzzle here involving identifying a "secret number" hidden in the walls . . .
. . . and then adding, subtracting, and multiplying various amounts written as stories on Pegasus statues.

For some reason, hanging skeletons conferred some attribute upgrades. Ultimately, I killed the Top Jouster and got his orbs.

The Arachnoid Caverns followed, and they were incredibly easy. I should have been here first. An outer ring of caverns was swarming with spiders and "Dino Beetles," and I could summon more with gongs placed throughout the area. I mostly killed them with arrows before they even reached me.
These were a lot harder in the last game.
A set of secret doors opened the way to inner caverns where a variety of crystals conferred one-time 10-point upgrades to luck, accuracy, personality, and intelligence. It took me a little trial and error before I figured out how the descriptions matched the benefit; crystals that increase luck are described as vibrating, for instance, and those that increase accuracy have a mysterious liquid flowing from them.
These increase intelligence.
Some of the rooms had thrones. Lord Might occupied one and gave me a puzzle that involved running around, speaking to the others in a particular order, and doing some math with their clues. My reward was 1 million experience points. Plus, I could give Lord Might 5,000 gems and reset the roughly 12 crystals in the dungeon, allowing them to impart their benefits again. I checked my gem total (13,000) and decided I could afford enough for one more round. I could see myself returning to the caves later in the game if I have a gem surplus.
This game is more puzzle-heavy than the other titles in the series.
Wildabar's dungeon followed, full of phantoms and ogres guarding casks of witches' brew. Two of the casks nonsensically held an imprisoned ninja named Wartowsan and a ranger named Lone Wolf, both available as an NPCs after I released them.
A cute reference.
The other casks were sometimes acid, but sometimes increased a random attribute. Unlike the crystals, there was no consistency in their descriptions, so I couldn't target the increases to particular characters.
I love how only one character can drink from a barrel large enough to accommodate a man.
In the Arachnoid Caverns, I had found keys to the last two dungeons in the opening areas. The first I tried was the Cathedral of Carnage in B3, headquarters of the Moo Cult, swarming with gargoyles and Clerics of Moo. The gargoyles weren't hard to kill, but they have an attack that sometimes paralyzes characters. Fortunately, this wears off after a few rounds. Priests and clerics of Moo used a weak electrical attack that "Protection from Elements" mostly rendered . . . wait for it . . . "moot."
Corak's notes paint the cult as evil but spectacularly ineffective.
Things went sour in the first room when a magic mouth cursed all my characters (I have no reversal spell) and got worse when I was unable to figure out a solution to a puzzle involving rotating heads. I had to mark it for a later return, but I need to solve it to get two Ultimate Power Orbs.
I have no idea what this was about.
I don't know about this Moo. This isn't the last time Van Caneghem will plague us with this kind of sillineess: the Temple of Baa figures heavily in Might and Magic VI and VII. The symbology there relates to sheep and rams, so you would assume that the priests of "Moo" worship some kind of cow god. But the head that cursed me said that "only the disciples of the Mighty Moose shall walk through these halls in peace," and there were some other references to moose in a cypher puzzle and the "moose juice" chalices, so I guess Moo is a moose. I suppose moose make about as much of a "moo" sound as cows do. Although it doesn't come up anywhere that I can see, the reference is probably to Bullwinkle specifically, as in Might and Magic II, the developer showed a fondness for other characters from the series.
Bold talk.

Lame walk.
The puzzle I couldn't solve had three parts. The first had to do with those heads. Five of them are lined up in alcoves and can be turned to face any cardinal direction. The heads are named Positro, Penetro, Dynatra, Barytro, and Proto. I couldn't figure out anything obvious from their names or anything. The second part involved an easy cypher puzzle that netted me some treasure. The third apparently involved drinking one or all of a series of "moose juice" chalices, but every sip either killed, eradicated, or stoned a character. I can solve these conditions now, but they have associated magical aging effects, and I figured there was no reason to solve that part of the puzzle when I couldn't solve the first.

Regardless, the trip was worth it. Scattered throughout the dungeon were most of the game's highest-level spells. I got "Town Portal," which frees up "Lloyd's Beacon" to be used in dungeons I want to return to instead of towns. "Raise Dead," "Resurrect," and "Holy Word" were all here, as well as some powerful offensive spells like "Moonray" and "Mass Distortion."
My cleric's spellbook now has most of the most powerful spells.
My final stop was at the Fortress of Fear in B2. An enemy called a "Plasmoid" seemed like a pushover before I realized that his attacks broke my armor and my attacks against him broke my weapons.

More difficult were a series of mummies, all of whom pathologically went after my druid every single round and caused disease. (Thankfully, that's one condition I do have a spell to cure.) An annoying and tedious lever puzzle (I had to run around the dungeon pulling levers then checking their results in the central room) led to a confrontation with the Mummy King, who had some nice treasure.
It looks like the mummies are begging me not to cast the "Fireball."
At this point, I had conquered everything in the opening 8 maps except for the two castles and the pyramid, all of which I had reasons for leaving until later. Before moving on, I returned to Slithercult Stronghold to spend some of the "quatloo coins" that were taking up precious inventory slots. Magic mouths in this dungeon give you strength, accuracy, and constitution boosts for each coin. I hope they're not needed elsewhere.

I wrapped up the session by heading to a new map. Rather than cast "Water Walk" to move to Column C or cast "Town Portal" to take us to the two locations I hadn't explored, I decided to do it organically and go see the ferryman at the tip of land in B3. He promised travel to Swamp Town.
This rather reminds me of that map in Might and Magic II where you find a ferryman on a river long after any sensible player would have acquired "Water Walk."
I'm glad I did it this way. My guide stopped several times to note islands or land features and something of their histories and lore. His first few tips were about areas I'd already explored, such as the Land of the Gargoyles. But soon we passed the ruins of Castles Greywind and Blackwind, and then the Isle of Fire, which holds many "fiery fiends" and a magically-protected town.
It's like being on the introductory tour in Pool of Radiance again.
I ended up in Swamp Town, way over in area E2, which I'll explore and write about next time--unless I decide to revert to a more systematic exploration back in C1. My guide did warn me that only "experienced adventurers" should venture outside of Swamp Town. The good news is that with "Town Portal," I can zip just about anywhere quickly. I wonder if "Fly" exists in this edition.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • I did try one visit to the arena. I killed a handful of easy enemies and got 1,000 experience points. I assume every time I go back, I'll get harder foes and more experience.
Arenas go back to the first title, but this game begins a tradition of making them inaccessible through normal exploration.
  • As is his wont, in the Cathedral of Carnage, the developer wrote his initials in the walls. 
I assume the "III" refers to the game number, as I've never seen Van Caneghem credited as a III.
  • I really haven't been using magic much in combat. The highest-level spells cost a lot of spell points. Weak and mid-range spells rarely outperform a physical attack. I have to start experimenting more now that I just got a bunch of new, powerful spells all at once.
  • Most of my party is Level 19 or 20. The training facility in Wildabar stops training at Level 20, so visiting new towns is a good idea.
  • The inventories of my first two characters are now completely full with keys, keycards, and other quest items that won't become useful until much later. That could be a problem if it continues. 
It's a good thing my medieval party recognizes this as something to keep.
My party feels awfully powerful for having only explored 1/3 of the outdoor area. I don't think there are very many spells more powerful than we have. Is it possible that the dungeons are frontloaded on the first set of islands? I guess we'll see.

Reflecting on the encounters in this session, I have to call up a couple of paragraphs that I wrote more than six years ago, in the midst of Might and Magic II

I just wish the game took itself more seriously. I don't have any problem with humor, but there's a difference between humor and goofiness, and Might & Magic II leans a bit too far towards the latter. I increase my endurance by listening to a singing ogre. We have NPCs named Thund R., Harry Kari, Sir Kill, Jed I, and Spaz Twit. A zombie, for no apparent reason, gives me an admission ticket to Corak's Cave. I fight armies of cripples. The tavern leaves the "h" out of "roasted pheasant" (ho, ho). A statue references wizards named Ybmug and Yekop (read them backwards). Add this to the nonsensical existence of clues written randomly on dungeon walls, and you have a game that makes it hard to suspend disbelief and just enjoy it. It's always stopping to say, "Hey! This is just a game! And look how clever we are!"

That doesn't make it not fun--it's still probably the best game I've played so far in this blog--it's just not quite as fun as if it took the world it created seriously and populated it with more realistic and interesting NPCs.

I have the same feeling as I go through this third edition. The Temple of Moo, random lords sitting on thrones in the midst of a cavern full of spiders, silly signs in the middle of nowhere, and a dozen other encounters all Jar-Jar-Binks their way through the plot, undermining the otherwise-serious world-building the developers have accomplished. At least the VI-VIII series mostly cut out this nonsense, but never entirely.
Time so far: 28 hours
Reload count: 11


Quick list note: Enchantasy: Quest for the Eternal Grimoire was coming up, but I found enough evidence that (despite its copyright date) it wasn't released until 1993, so I moved it to that year.

If anyone has any documentation or experience with Chaos in Andromeda: Eyes of the Eagle, I would appreciate an e-mail. I haven't been able to find a game manual, and I'm having trouble with combat in-game.
solarbird: (tracer)
posted by [personal profile] solarbird at 09:19pm on 20/09/2017 under , ,
Today was the most badass I have ever been as

Offence. Volskaya industries. Backfill, with about 2:30 to go; first point taken, first third of second point taken, but they've been flailing. I grab, and they waste about 2:15 just raggedly charging in, ignoring my group-up requests - tho' I did get the enemy to blow a few of their ults. And once I announce that my nerf is up, my team finally groups, mostly because hey, about out of time.

I lead the charge in. I get one and a mech with my nerf. One of our team gets someone else, I don't know who. I get my mecha back, charge in, kill a third.

Their Reaper drops in with his ult and kills FIVE OF US. Quadruple kill. It is, in fact, play of the game.

But he does not get me. I am the only member of my team alive.

I kill every remaining member of the enemy team and take the point in overtime, while the entire rest of my team is dead.

I gold in objective kills, but I don't even card.

I cannot imagine what that looked like to everyone else.
Mood:: 'triumphant' triumphant

Posted by Randy McDonald

Hurricane season this year in the Caribbean is shaping up to be terrible. I had not quite realized how terrible, the imagery of devastation aside, until I learned that the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma had forced the evacuation of Barbuda, smaller of the two major islands which make up the country of Antigua and Barbuda. The island has been emptied of its population of some eighteen

Posted by Grant

It is 22 November 1993, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise hosts two scientists who are attempting to repair a planet whose magma is inexplicably cooling. One of the scientists, Dr Juliana Tainer (Fionnula Flanagan), reveals herself to be the former wife Dr Noonien Soong - the cyberneticist who created Data (Brent Spiner).

So after meeting a brother in Season 1, and a father in Season 4, Data finally completes his family set by meeting his de facto "mother". "Inheritance" is a weirdly flat and lifeless episode. The science fiction plot is so weirdly arbitrary and unimportant that it is barely worth noting. The development of Data and Dr Tainer's relationship is a meritable idea, but the execution is inexplicably dull. This is an easily skipped, readily forgotten episode.

I actually had forgotten it completely when I came to rewatch it. The last time would have been some time around its original broadcast, and it clearly made no impact upon me whatsoever. The episode's first half is a very predictable series of 'cute' scenes in which Tainer fusses over Data, and gushes embarrassing childhood stories at his friends. Then things get a bit more dramatic when she faces how she abandoned him when the colony on which she and Soong lived was attacked. Data, of course, feels nothing at all, but that simply makes him act like a mirror to Tainer's own guilt.

Then the episode hits its twist: that Tainer is herself an android created by Soong after the real Tainer died. She has been designed to grow old and eventually die, and is entirely unaware of her artificial nature. In itself it is a provocative story idea, but it immediately undercuts the entire survivor guilt plot that was already being developed. With this narrative right turn the dramatic question of the episode stops being about whether or not Tainer can forgive herself and love her son, but rather whether or not it is ethical to keep Tainer's android state a secret from her.

And of course it's unethical. The series has, over seven seasons, gone to such extraordinary lengths to establish that androids like Data are sentient individuals worthy of the same rights as any other member of the Federation. Despite this, the decision is made to keep Tainer's secret hidden from her, and she finishes the episode none the wiser that she isn't human at all. It feels despicable, and puts the entire key cast - Data, Dr Crusher (Gates McFadden) and Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) - in a very poor position. This episode could have been a minor diversion, but by shifting its storyline halfway through it just becomes a rather unfortunate waste of time.

I've now watched 11 episodes of Season 7, and only five have been good. The quality ratio slips back down to 45 per cent.
September 20th, 2017
posted by [syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed at 10:50pm on 20/09/2017

Posted by John Scalzi

Because yesterday I got to hang out a bit with Alison Moyet, who if you didn’t know is one of my absolute favorite singers, both in Yaz, and with her solo work. We’d become Twitter buddies in the last couple of years and when I mentioned to her Krissy and I would be at her Chicago show she suggested we have a real-life meet. And we did! And it was lovely! And brief, as she had to prepare to entertain a sold-out show (and she did; the concert was excellent), but long enough to confirm that she’s as fabulous in the flesh as she is in her music. Which was not surprising to me, but nice regardless.

(Alison has also blogged about our meet-up as part of her tour journal, which you can find here. Read the entire tour journal, as she’s funny as hell.)

I noted to some friends that I was likely to meet Alison this week and some of them wondered how it would go, on the principle that meeting one’s idols rarely goes as one expects (more bluntly, the saying is “never meet your idols.”) I certainly understand the concept, but I have to say I’ve had pretty good luck meeting people whom I have admired (or whose work I admired). I chalk a lot of that up to the fact that while I was working as a film critic, I met and interviewed literally hundreds of famous people, some of whose work was very important to me. In the experience I got to have the first-hand realization that famous and/or wonderfully creative people are also just people, and have the same range of personalities and quirks as anyone else.

If you remember that when you meet the people whose work or actions you admire, you give them space just to be themselves. And themselves are often lovely. And when they’re not, well, that’s fine too. Alison Moyet, it turns out, is fabulous, and I’m glad we got to meet.

(Which is not to say I didn’t geek out. Oh, my, I did. But I also kept that mostly inside. Krissy found it all amusing.)

Anyway: Great Tuesday. A+++, would Tuesday again.

Gompertz' law says that the human death rate increases exponentially with age. That is, if your chance of dying during this year is , then your chance of dying during next year is for some constant . The death rate doubles every 8 years, so the constant is empirically around . This is of course mathematically incoherent, since it predicts that sufficiently old people will have a mortality rate greater than 100%. But a number of things are both true and mathematically incoherent, and this is one of them. (Zipf's law is another.)

The Gravity and Levity blog has a superb article about this from 2009 that reasons backwards from Gompertz' law to rule out certain theories of mortality, such as the theory that death is due to the random whims of a fickle god. (If death were entirely random, and if you had a 50% chance of making it to age 70, then you would have a 25% chance of living to 140, and a 12.5% chance of living to 210, which we know is not the case.)

Gravity and Levity says:

Surprisingly enough, the Gompertz law holds across a large number of countries, time periods, and even different species.

To this list I will add wooden utility poles.

A couple of weeks ago Toph asked me why there were so many old rusty staples embedded in the utility poles near our house, and this is easy to explain: people staple up their yard sale posters and lost-cat flyers, and then the posters and flyers go away and leave behind the staples. (I once went out with a pliers and extracted a few dozen staples from one pole; it was very satisfying but ultimately ineffective.) If new flyer is stapled up each week, that is 52 staples per year, and 1040 in twenty years. If we agree that 20 years is the absolute minimum plausible lifetime of a pole, we should not be surprised if typical poles have hundreds or thousands of staples each.

But this morning I got to wondering what is the expected lifetime of a wooden utility pole? I guessed it was probably in the range of 40 to 70 years. And happily, because of the Wonders of the Internet, I could look it up right then and there, on the way to the trolley stop, and spend my commute time reading about it.

It was not hard to find an authoritative sounding and widely-cited 2012 study by electric utility consultants Quanta Technology.

Summary: Most poles die because of fungal rot, so pole lifetime varies widely depending on the local climate. An unmaintained pole will last 50–60 years in a cold or dry climate and 30-40 years in a hot wet climate. Well-maintained poles will last around twice as long.

Anyway, Gompertz' law holds for wooden utility poles also. According to the study:

Failure and breakdown rates for wood poles are thought to increase exponentially with deterioration and advancing time in service.

The Quanta study presents this chart, taken from the (then forthcoming) 2012 book Aging Power Delivery Infrastructures:

The solid line is the pole failure rate for a particular unnamed utility company in a median climate. The failure rate with increasing age clearly increases exponentially, as Gompertz' law dictates, doubling every 12½ years or so: Around 1 in 200 poles fails at age 50, around 1 in 100 of the remaining poles fails at age 62.5, and around 1 in 50 of the remaining poles fails at age 75.

(The dashed and dotted lines represent poles that are removed from service for other reasons.)

From Gompertz' law itself and a minimum of data, we can extrapolate the maximum human lifespan. The death rate for 65-year-old women is around 1%, and since it doubles every 8 years or so, we find that 50% of women are dead by age 88, and all but the most outlying outliers are dead by age 120. And indeed, the human longevity record is currently attributed to Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122½.

Similarly we can extrapolate the maximum service time for a wooden utility pole. Half of them make it to 90 years, but if you have a large installed base of 110-year-old poles you will be replacing about one-seventh of them every year and it might make more sense to rip them all out at once and start over. At a rate of one yard sale per week, a 110-year-old pole will have accumulated 5,720 staples.

The Quanta study does not address deterioration of utility poles due to the accumulation of rusty staples.

supergee: (coy2)
posted by [personal profile] supergee at 01:48pm on 20/09/2017 under
New ordinance encourages pervy cops to check out the areola and the anal cleft.

Posted by CJ

Our sink arrived. The poor UPS guy had to schlep what’s labeled ‘team carry’ pkg up two sets of steps.
We have much of the ceiling painted. Some of the walls. We have the broom closet mostly built.

We are gaining weight from fast food and from the fact I’m cooking in a microwave mostly.

We have yet to lay the floor or finish the walls and have no cabinets or sink. Spaghetti water gets emptied into the tub drain.

Food prep area is, oh, about 2×2, meaning the top of the range. Or 8″x8″ if near the coffee pot.

supergee: (monster)
Richard Dawkins fears that imagination is a gateway drug to God.
*Seymour Skinner
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] james_davis_nicoll at 10:45am on 20/09/2017
cut for size.

Read more... )
theferrett: (Meazel)
posted by [personal profile] theferrett at 10:13am on 20/09/2017

“I’m not up for sex,” she told me. “I’ve had a lot of medical issues lately. It’s more painful than not to even try.”

“Cool,” I said, and we spent the day going to a street festival.

I woulda liked sex. But life happens.

“I’m in the middle of my seasonal affective disorder,” I told her. “You show up, I might not be able to leave the house. I might just curl up and cry all day.”

“Cool,” she said, and I was pretty morose but we cuddled a lot and eventually managed to go out to dinner.

I woulda liked to have a working brain. But life happens.

“I’m not sure I can make it through this convention,” they told me. “My flare-ups have been really bad this season. I might not be able to go out with you in the evenings.”

“Cool,” I said, and I went out for little hour-long jaunts before heading back to the room to cuddle them, then charging out again to circulate.

I woulda liked to have them by my side when I hit the room parties. But life happens.

I’m a massively flawed human with a mental illness. I need to have poly relationships that include for the possibility of breakdowns. Because if I need to have a perfect day before I allow anyone to see me, I might wait for weeks. Months. Years. And then what the fuck is left by the time I get to see them?

I know there are people who need perfect visits. They have to have the makeup on when you visit them, and they’ll never fall asleep when they had a night of Big Sexy planned, and if they get out the toys there’s gonna be a scene no matter how raw anyone’s feeling.

But I can’t do that.

My relationships aren’t, can’t be, some idealized projection of who I want to be. If I’m not feeling secure that day, I can’t be with a partner who needs me to be their rock so the weekend proceeds unabated. And if they’re feeling broken, I can’t be with someone who needs to pretend everything is fine because their time with me is their way of proving what a good life they have.

Sometimes, me and my lovers hoped for a weekend retreat of pure passion and what we get is curling up with someone under tear-stained covers, holding them and letting them know they will not be alone come the darkness.

We cry. We collapse. We stumble. We don’t always get what we want, not immediately.

But we also heal. We nurture. We accept.

And in the long run, God, we get so much more.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

james_davis_nicoll: (Default)


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